Even the most die hard Assassin’s Creed fans could be forgiven for missing out on this particular entry in the series as its release was perhaps the biggest victim of the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity on release back in 2014. To begin with Assassin’s Creed Rogue was meant to have released by itself before the release of Unity except at the time, the decision was made to bring Unity’s release forward to the same day as Rogue meaning many fans had to make the choice of playing what was the very final Assassin’s Creed game on old generation consoles or go for the shiny new generation console version of Unity for PS4 and Xbox One. Now Ubisoft has brought new life and a fresh chance for fans to experience what for me was a defining moment for the series as Rogue has been remastered and released once more.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is the final chapter of the Colonial trilogy and in terms of the story narrative, slots in between Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III. Events in Rogue both set up the events in ACIII but also lead directly into the start of Unity, which was how the original release plan was supposed to allow players to experience to connect both Rogue and Unity. It not only rounded off that trilogy but it also marked the final appearance as an Abstergo Entertainment employee which the modern day story had been focused on in Black Flag thanks to the Templars retrieving the body of Desmond Miles at the end of AC III, and using his genetic memory to allow Abstergo Entertainment staff to relive genetic memories from Desmond’s organic material, now known as simply Sample 17.
The player takes the role of a gender neutral and nameless Abstergo Entertainment employee, who whilst exploring the lifetime of Shay Cormac, accidentally sets off a virus in the Abstergo servers, forcing a lock down of the system. The only way to clear the virus is for the player to finish living through the life of Shay Cormac however it quickly becomes clear that the mysterious Juhati Otso Berg, has a personal interest in the life of Shay Cormac and is equally encouraging to complete revisit his life for this own ends. Shay Cormac is an Assassin recruit still in training when we first meet him, we meet his mentors who are teaching him skills with Achilles Davenport as the Master Assassin of their group, the man who will reluctantly in his old age train Connor to be an Assassin in AC III.
I really came to appreciate Shay Cormac as a character, and it was an interesting switch after playing AC III and Black Flag to step into the traditional role of an Assassin and how at that time in Colonial America, Achilles was in charge of a successful and fully capable Brotherhood group. But it was his defiance that really stood out for me as Shay has a tendency to be insubordinate to some of his mentors and often questioning their activities and roles as Assassin’s such as doing missions that helped the French whilst ignoring those treated as slaves. His understanding of the Assassin’s Creed is one of questioning its relevance with the ideology of defending humanity’s right to free will in sharp contrast to having to follow the orders of his mentors. Whilst he is not a reluctant Assassin, he does question his orders which make him a very unique character for this series.
This remaster is much like the Ezio Collection in that it has been given a full HD makeover but it retains all the niggles and bugs that the original game had such as the well known movement and free running glitches that could make you suddenly jump off an angle when trying to climb or jump between buildings. There are also the same animations which are lifted directly from Black Flag and only have Edward Kenway removed and replaced by Shay Cormac so that they both walk, fight and strut in the same way.
After putting over 100 hours into Assassin’s Creed Origins by this time, going back to the very old generation style of combat and movement in Rogue did take a little while to get used to. The combat uses the same counter based system since Assassin’s Creed II making the combat very easy and more about reacting to perform a counter than actually having a fight which does feel strange now after Origins more modern combat style but it was actually nice to step back once more into the old style of AC gameplay, much as it was replaying the Ezio Remastered Collection. A lot of the gameplay mechanics are a continuation of what you would have played in Black Flag with some differences such as Shay discovering an air rifle which replaced the blow dart from Black Flag and later in the game obtaining a primitive grenade launcher attachment for it.
Naval battles also return as one of Shay’s strengths is his ability to captain a ship at sea and early in the game he claims his own ship he names The Morrigan. After the tropical setting of Black Flag, Rogue returns to the rather cold setting of the North Atlantic so the seas have ice sheets to sail through and ice bergs to avoid. This also means that should Shay go for a dip, he risks being hurt by the cold temperatures. Naval combat is the same but for Rogue many of the upgrades in Black Flag that took a while to obtain and given fairly early on and finding materials to upgrade The Morrigan is also fairly quick. I always enjoyed the ship fighting in the Colonial trilogy and with the ‘Skull and Bones’ naval battle game spin off coming out soon, it was great to replay what started it all off. I had actually forgotten the little tweak that had been made in Rogue that can see enemy ships actually board the Morrigan in combat forcing you to fight off the enemy crew. There are other little enhancements in Rogue based on Black Flag but nothing too unfamiliar if you had played it before.
The world will see Shay go from sailing around the North Atlantic and visiting locations and looking for collectibles to activity around New York city, and often the story sequences will take Shay very quickly from one to the other especially when meeting new characters in a certain location but to only then have that new character require Shay to sail them to another one. Exploration in Rogue is pretty much down to the player as many of the locations are not visited as a result of the story but left to the player to just sail around visiting them as their leisure. It is a huge world and there are plenty of collectibles and treasure maps to follow to encourage such exploration but the story itself is fairly contained. It is also by far the shorted main release story in the series at just six sequences and can be completed relatively quickly in just a couple of sessions if you ignore everything else.
The real strength of Rogue for me as a fan of the series and a big reason why I enjoyed it on its original release is the story of Shay Cormac after an event happens that puts him at odds with the blindness of Achilles to see what he is doing is wrong. In the search of Pieces of Eden, the Assassin’s are at risk of doing far more damage than any Templar plot and Shay sets out to prevent Achilles and his former mentors from continuing their search. This puts him on the path of becoming a Templar after their intentions fall in line with his and for the first time in the series, players are given a good insight into the Templar belief system which takes the Black and White plot of Assassin’s being good and Templars being the bad guys and makes it all a little more of a grey area. Throughout this story and the series since, there are times when the Assassin’s go too far and the Templars idea of peace through control does not appear to be all that bad. Through Shay the player gets to see that the creed of both parties can at times align as much as they become direct obstacles to each other which is just so interesting for me. Not to mention how the modern day side wraps up the trilogy very nicely before leading into how it would change in future games starting with Unity.
I would fully recommend Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered to fans of the series who really appreciate the story as much as the gameplay, especially if they missed this entry on original release. It does not really offer anything that new to what you would find in Black Flag but there is enough here for fans of the original Assassin’s Creed titles or last generation to enjoy but it is the story of Shay Cormac that makes this a must pay game for the series. To be fair this is just a far prettier game to play now and all the gameplay including the bugs and issues the original had are still very much present which is a shame, especially with some of the movement problems which are as frustrating now as they were back in 2014. This looks as pretty as the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Black Flag and it does justify its release on the fact that a good number of fans may never played this first time round thanks to the messy storm that was Unity.
Shay Cormac is for me, one of the most important characters in the series and has the same effect on the series that say the Arbiter had in HALO 2 in terms of showing the story from the point of view of ‘the bad guys’ and here the blurred lines of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys with the Assassins and Templar sides is a fascinating thing to experience as a fan of this series. Though short, the story is rich in what it delivers both as Shay in the past and in the modern day with so much lore to be found in the repairable computers and tablets to be found in the modern day side.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered is well worth picking up even if it is just for the story and to revisit the Colonial trilogy one last time, a trilogy that I believe many never gave the full chance too back then but is worth a visit now.